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State polls give no clear signals on national ballot

State polls give no clear signals on national ballot
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First Published: Tue, Dec 09 2008. 12 09 AM IST

Updated: Tue, Dec 09 2008. 12 09 AM IST
New Delhi: The results of five state elections declared on Monday may not encourage the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) to call for early elections to the Lok Sabha that are scheduled for next year and also do not shed any light on what is likely to happen in those polls, according to political analysts.
The Congress won three of the five states that went to the polls in November and December, and its main rival, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), won two, but analysts say the results do not highlight any significant trends or issues that the parties can use to their advantage in the Lok Sabha elections.
Click here to watch video (Part- I)
The Congress won Rajasthan, Delhi and Mizoram and the BJP, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
In the run-up to the elections, the inability of the UPA government at the Centre to control inflation had been expected to be a significant poll issue. The terror attacks in Mumbai, on the eve of polling in Madhya Pradesh and before elections in New Delhi and Rajasthan, were expected to work to BJP’s benefit by highlighting the UPA’s record in fighting terror—there have been 12 strikes in the past 11 months.
B.G. Verghese, political analyst and visiting professor at the New Delhi-based think tank, the Centre for Policy Research, said voters were more “concerned about the issues related to their bread and butter”.
“They seem to be disapproving (of) the political parties grandstanding over issues such as terror. After all, they realize the issues such as terrorism and inflation are beyond the government’s control,” he said. “Putting the whole blame at the door of Congress did not appear to be appreciated.”
Analysts had also expected these elections to be an indicator of the growing strength of Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). The party improved its position in the three states where it focused its campaign, winning six seats in Rajasthan, two in Delhi, and seven in Madhya Pradesh (13 results were awaited as Mint went to press). It had two, none and two in the outgoing assemblies of these states, respectively.
“If the BSP, Left parties, TDP (Telugu Desam Party) and AIADMK (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) stay together, the third front also will be a formidable contender,” said N. Bhaskara Rao, chairman, Centre for Media Studies.
A Congress leader who did not want to be identified said that it was clear from the results that BSP and other parties belonging to the so-called third front would be key players in next year’s Lok Sabha elections.
Analysts say both the Congress and the BJP would probably spend time analysing the results before setting the agenda for the Lok Sabha polls.
“There is no stopping the Congress. We are very confident of winning the next general elections,” senior Congress leader M. Veerappa Moily told reporters. Responding to a question on the prospect of an early poll, he said the election could be held when it is due in April or “even in February”.
Click here to watch video (Part-II)
While the BJP was quick to latch on to the terror issue in the wake of the Mumbai attacks, analysts say the party’s negative campaign eroded its credibility.
“I think it is high time that BJP should understand it cannot divide the voters on communal lines to gain electoral mileage. People vote for development and economic growth,” said Sudha Pai, professor, Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Another analyst said the results highlight a key issue that could have played a part in the state elections: leadership.
“The mistake we often make is confusing what issues are important, with which of the two parties is more credible. For instance, when we look at an issue like terrorism, it is not as if people are not concerned about it,” said Pratap Bhanu Mehta, president of the Centre for Policy Research. “It is just that the opposition, say (BJP leader) L.K. Advani, also did not show any great leadership on the issue. Further, in Delhi, V.K. Malhotra (BJP’s chief ministerial candidate) offered no effective alternative (to the Congress’ Sheila Dikshit). These elections prove that leadership choice does really matter.”
Like Dikshit, Shivraj Singh Chouhan in Madhya Pradesh and Raman Singh in Chhattisgarh fought the elections on issues related to development. Singh’s government also launched several populist measures including making rice available to poor households at Rs3 a kg.
Factionalism
Both the Congress and the BJP blamed in-fighting and factionalism for their reverses.
“Had we been able to tackle our internal differences and put our house in order, things would have been different. It is a narrow-margin defeat,” Arun Jaitley, BJP’s general secretary, said of the party’s losses in Rajasthan and New Delhi.
The Congress suffered similar problems in Madhya Pradesh. The party needs to introspect on the results in the state, said Jitin Prasada, Congress leader in charge of the campaign in Madhya Pradesh.
Lok Sabha
Analysts say it is difficult to predict the impact of these results on the Lok Sabha elections because they are mixed and voting patterns in assembly and parliamentary elections are significantly different.
They add that if the two main national parties, the Congress and the BJP, fail to come up with a national issue, then the verdict would be decided on local issues, thereby making regional parties all that more important.
That could mean a larger coalition. The UPA is a coalition of 15 parties. The previous BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government was a coalition of 14 parties.
“It is a mixed bag and we cannot develop any pattern or trend on the basis of these results...The BSP, however, looks set to emerge as a critical factor in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections,” said Bidyut Chakraborty, professor, department of political science, Delhi University.
The Congress, however, sees things differently. “It is a good trend. Congress will be ahead of the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections,” said Congress Working Committee member B.K. Hariprasad.
The BJP’s reading was driven by similar logic. “Winning MP and Chhattisgarh proves that we are still the only national alternative available to the Congress,” said BJP spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy.
liz.m@livemint.com
Utpal Bhaskar of Mint and PTI contributed to this story.
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First Published: Tue, Dec 09 2008. 12 09 AM IST